Accident reconstructionist advises on slip and fall in retail setting

Kristin Casler

Written by
— Updated on October 27, 2017

Accident reconstructionist advises on slip and fallAn accident reconstructionist advises on a case involving a pharmacy shopper who slipped and fell on liquid laundry detergent. Plaintiff was shopping in a pharmacy and carrying a 50-ounce bottle of liquid laundry detergent that he planned to buy. Unbeknownst to him, the laundry detergent bottle was leaking from a crack in the cap. He had only moved down the aisle about nine feet when the detergent puddled near his feet and caused him to slip and fall, resulting in his injuries.

The plaintiff hired an accident reconstructionist to opine on the incident and re-visualize the scene using Jvt image processing technology, suing the pharmacy for negligence for placing the damaged container on the store shelf for a customer to pick up.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. How was the bottle damaged?
  • 2. Were the pharmacy’s safety protocols up to industry standards?

Expert Witness Response

The expert is a mechanical engineer and has been an accident reconstructionist and safety analysis specialist for nearly 15 years.

After inspecting and testing exemplar containers of laundry detergent and reviewing depositions and photos, I conclude that:

• More likely than not, the container the plaintiff picked up had a defective cap. The photographs also show a missing piece on the subject cap approximately 1 inch by 1 inch oriented to the front of the bottle. This is indicative of the final damage suffered on the subject bottle when the plaintiff fell to the floor. Furthermore, I have not been able to duplicate the damage pattern from drop tests on exemplar bottles. This suggests a prior defect most likely from manufacturing or handling.
• More likely than not, the container he picked up was capped tightly. Defendant’s allegation that the bottle was nearly uncapped is unfounded. Photographs of the subject bottle show that the cap was tight. Even if the cap was partially unscrewed as much as 90%, a bottle under expected consumer handling will not leak.
• The defective cap allowed detergent to leak on the floor near plaintiff’s feet, when he carried the bottle in a normal fashion. This is corroborated by witness testimony. The design of the handle made the approximate ergonomic holding angle of the container to tilt approximately 76 degrees. It was also noted that the measured threshold angle for spilling an uncapped full container was approximately 64 degrees.
• The detergent on the floor would make the floor near plaintiff dangerously slippery and would not be noticeable to him.
• Because the subject bottle is not available to inspect, we cannot determine if this is a manufacturing defect or defect from handling damage.

Review of the defendant’s supplied employee safety forms and instructions indicate their accident reporting and investigation is not timely and rigorous and is not the standard of the industry. Information is essentially relayed to a second party. Also, they are deficient in their mode of operation regarding maintenance and the lack of sweep sheet use. Finally, the store has deficient retention policies because it did not preserve the critical evidence.

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